Visiting students aid tornado-ravaged community

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | July 01, 2014

Image with file name: Pilger10701.jpg

Mergim Bajraliu is too familiar with the aftermath of disaster.

He was a resident of Newtown, Conn. His sister was a survivor of the shooting at Sandy Hook. As a volunteer, he travelled to Moore, Okla., to help out in the aftermath of a devastating tornado.

On June 26, he was part of a group of 11 UNMC Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) students who travelled to Pilger to join volunteers in helping the residents of another tornado-ravaged community.

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SURP students who travelled to Pilger included, from left: Mergim Bajraliu, Praveena Mylvaganam, Alexandra Moulton, Kyle Lau, Selena Dickinson, Stephanie Lankford, Lauren Gottshall and Haley Kubista.

"We want to help people," he said. "We're going into medical fields so that we can be there for people, and this was just another activity we could engage in here in Nebraska. Our ultimate goal is to leave our mark here, to do something good here, because people have been very good to us."

Alexandra Moulton, a junior at Vassar College, helped organize the trip to Pilger for her SURP colleagues. Like Bajraliu, she had seen disaster firsthand, as a resident of Ocean Springs, Miss., on the Gulf Coast during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"My house was not destroyed," she said. "So my family, we really wanted to lend our time and support to those who had lost a lot."

Volunteering at Pilger "was a really well-organized situation," she said. The SURP group worked on debris removal at private homes and in a cornfield.

"Debris included wood, stuff from the homes, personal belongings - things that had been flung out into the cornfields," she said. "They told us that the cornfields really are people's livelihood in Pilger, and they wanted to get those areas cleaned up as soon as possible."

The group also worked through a private home, attempting to help a resident recover some personal belongings.

"He wanted us to get to two boxes that held their most prized possessions," she said. "That was the goal for the day."

The group was there to work, but they made some friends as well.

"One person I met, her home stood, but she knew some of the people who lost their homes and the family of the girl who was killed," Bajraliu said.

Although the group had been cautioned to give the residents space, Bajraliu could tell she wanted to talk. "She told me about everything, and I even promised her next time I go there - because I will go again -- I'll bring her favorite cake.

"Chocolate cake."


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Ann Ashford
July 01, 2014 at 1:46 PM

We can all learn a lot from these student! Thank you doesn't begin to cover it.

Sonia Ditter
July 01, 2014 at 7:35 AM

Many Blessings to you students! Thank-you